Days before the Democratic House primary in Michigan, Sen. Bernie Sanders told hundreds of voters gathered in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac Friday night that a vote for Rep. Andy Levin would send a vital message to billionaires and corporate PACs, including one controlled by the powerful anti-Palestinian rights lobby, that "they cannot buy our democracy."
The Vermont independent senator joined Levin and his fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib at a rally to stump for the two progressive lawmakers, focusing some of his remarks on the political action committee started by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the United Democracy Project (UDP).
The UDP has poured more than $4 million into the campaign of Rep. Haley Stevens, a pro-Israel Democrat who is facing Levin in a newly-drawn district.
Sanders and Levin—who are both Jewish—oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, a position which has made them targets of AIPAC. The group's PAC has called Levin's Two State Solution Act, which he introduced last year, "anti-Israel" and told supporters he "represents the fringe wing" of the Democratic Party in an email urging them to support Stevens.
AIPAC's opposition to Levin, however "has nothing to do—in my view—with Israel," Sanders said in Pontiac Friday night. "It is simply trying to defeat candidates and members of Congress who stand for working families and are prepared to demand that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share of taxes."
"There is something profoundly wrong in our political system when a handful of billionaires, through super PACs that spend millions of dollars, try to defeat progressive candidates for Congress," he added. "That is not what democracy is about. That is what oligarchy is about."
Jewish American-led pro-Palestinian rights group IfNotNow said Friday's rally represented "Muslims and Jews uniting for a shared future of equality and justice for all" and rejected AIPAC's interference with the Levin-Stevens race.
As Common Dreams has reported, the UDP has also spent millions of dollars to defeat U.S. House candidate Summer Lee in her primary in Pennsylvania and former candidates Jessica Cisneros in Texas and Nida Allam in North Carolina.
All the candidates support Palestinian rights and are critical of the billions of dollars the U.S. spends annually to support the Israeli military, as well as backing Medicare for All, bold climate action, and economic justice for middle- and lower-income Americans.
While aggressively wading into Democratic primaries across the country, UDP "has not been similarly active in Republican primaries, even in races where Republican candidates have been widely criticized for antisemitic comments," The American Prospect reported earlier this month.
The PAC does have strong ties to the GOP, however, with Republican billionaire donors Paul Singer and Bernie Marcus contributing $1 million each to the committee.
"The billionaire class is saying, 'We own this country; we own the political system, and we will not tolerate dissent. Either you work for us, or get out of here.' And Andy has chosen not to work for them," said Sanders on Friday night of Levin, a former labor organizer.
The UDP has not intervened in Tlaib's primary race, which she is expected to win, but as Common Dreams reported last month, AIPAC-affiliated group Pro-Israel America has endorsed one of her opponents and another pro-Israel organization, Urban Empowerment Action PAC, announced in May it would spend $1 million to boost Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey's primary challenge.
AIPAC has made their mission targeting progressives for their right-wing corporate donors," said Lee as she expressed support for Levin on Friday. "Our movement must be united against corporate power."